Monday, 24 June 2013

Ben Posford

Ben Posford is a complex man with interesting views on the line between individual and corporate responsibility. He is a claimant personal injury lawyer (a partner at Osbornes Solicitors) specialising in complex brain and spinal cord injury cases, and one of the 'hero' types that Neil Kinsella talked to me about previously in The Conversation, motivated to stand up for the little man or woman in the face of the large corporate monolith refusing to take responsibility for not looking after people properly.  A far cry from the image of the cynical, money-grabbing, ambulance-chasing, PI lawyer that some would have us believe is the norm.

Ben talked to me this week about the nonsense that is the Corporate Manslaughter Act and how the firepower it was supposed to bring has been little more than a damp squib.

"The idea of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 was that in addition to financial penalties, companies could be named and shamed to the extent they might have to carry a notice on their letterhead for a specified period of time after an offence saying they had been convicted under the Act.  But in practice, companies simply won't wear this, so instead they dissolve and then reappear in a different company shell with a new name - the same business, just re-housed and re-badged to get out of having to carry the slogan telling everyone of their offence. Gross negligence manslaughter is far better because it seeks to lay the blame at the door of individuals, and that is far harder to wriggle out of. But there's a balance: of course it's not right when individuals are hung out to dry by their employers when a problem lies with the system, or the culture, or management of a workplace. But businesses are run by people and the buck has to stop somewhere, particularly once the trail of responsibility leads you inside the senior management team."

Our conversation then took a tangential turn and we started to talk about parallel issues in other areas of law: from last week's Supreme Court judgment in the Prest divorce case, in terms of the use of corporate structures to hide things being put under scrutiny (the key issue here was whether the corporate veil could be pierced if it might be being used to hide assets of a divorcing party); to this week's publication of the Banking Commission Report, a major feature being the switch of focus to holding individual bankers to account, rather than the nebulous concept of "banking culture".

So in three very different areas of law we are seeing something of a fashion for corporate structures being ignored where they get in the way of personal responsibilities. A significant shift in the balance between individual versus corporate responsibility.  The latter may be great in theory, but perhaps we have learned that in practice it's too often used for individuals to slide out of responsibility.  The concept of corporate accountability was never intended to provide unscrupulous individuals new places to hide...
Some of you will know I'm a fan of Ray Bradbury's dystopian Fahrenheit 451, particularly Francois Truffaut's version of the story. I mentioned it in a blogpost this February, commenting on London Fashion Week's craze for Instagram diaries, which set me wondering we're inching towards a world where visual communication takes over from the written word. Imagine my delight when in response I was contacted by a fellow Fahrenheit 451 fan who has created this wonderful video summarising not just the plot but the underlying themes of this classic tale in under three minutes. It uses stop-motion edit technique, which you'll enjoy.

He makes some particularly interesting points about the relevance of this narrative in the modern day. Originally written in the days of McCarthyism, Collins considers the themes just as relevant in today's surveillance-obsessed world. 

You can see the video here. Enjoy!
BBC Correspondent Joe Lynam is more used to delivering, rather than making, the news. But this week he and his partner made headlines themselves as their dash to the maternity hospital ended up with the delivery of a second son in the front seat of the family Vauxhall Astra.

We had been surprised earlier in the week when a Newsnight opportunity we'd lined up was cancelled at the last minute as he took an unplanned day off when Riina went in to labour. The next we knew was an email the following morning headlined "Wow. What a night!" announcing the arrival of Sean Martin Lynam (3.2kg) and signing off "Riina is fine, but dad is in need of sedatives :)"

Benedict Moore-Bridger wrote up the story for the Evening Standard and it is currently one of the most read on the website this week. 

Congratulations Joe! But are these really the lengths you expect us to go to now, to make headline news?? 

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